Before the first football is thrown, before the players spread out onto the field to the sound of shrieking fans, before trained legs pump methodically toward each other, there are the lights and, still cloaked in darkness, there are the drums.

They lead with a clipped, expectant beat as the marching band emerges from obscurity and heads toward the field, purple hat feathers bobbing, metal instruments gleaming. Sequin sashes accessorize white military shirts. Mohawks and pink ponytails have been slicked back or tucked inside gold caps. Their owners march with scrubbed faces. All this pageantry, though, simply paves the way for the night's main attraction: a sweaty mass of high school boys strutting toward the lights. A painted bear adorns the field house, bearing little resemblance to the papier mache sculpture in the hallway.

At the entrance to the field, the marching band marches on while the football team stops and huddles. Jasper stands in the middle of the huddle, protected by his helmet from a horde of purple spandex-clad limbs. His sweatband chafes against a zit on his forehead.

“Let's go!” from Coach is the team's cue to crouch into a group squat. Coach always sounds hoarse during pep talks. “I'll tell you something right now! If you are not jacked up for this, there is something wrong with you! I said, if you are not jacked up for this, there is something wrong with you!”

Jasper thinks there might be something wrong with him.

But he joins in response. The boys shift their collective weight from left to right to left until they sway back and forth in one purple and gold mass of burgeoning testosterone.

“We're gonna go out there and have a whole lotta' fun!”

Jasper grunts with the rest, releasing a gutteral roar of a syllable that resonates between his ribs with each sway.

“You gotta be ready to go! Ready to go, eh! I need that A-game! A-game! No room for anything else!”

How many camera phones, Jasper wonders, are in the audience? For the first time he realizes that from a distance, this pregame tradition resembles forty asses rubbing against forty penises. Then he looks in front of him and sees Will Johanson's backside, takes stock of where his own is located, and realizes that's exactly what this pregame tradition is.

“What time is it?”

“Game time!” shouts the team in unison.

“What time is it?”

“Game time!”

“What time is it?”

“Game time!” The words exit Jasper's mouth in a rush. Around him, faces whip into a red frenzy, the crowd audible now—cheering as usual.

“Bears, let's hear it!”

“Bears, let's hear it!”


“One last time!”


An invisible barricade removed, the boys rush the field. Drums pick back up, but thicker and deeper and more militant, while an announcer's voice echoes from the sky: “Good evening and welcome to this matchup between Pearville High School and Kankakee High School!”

A banner unfurls from the left, dipping toward the field, large letters in earnest red ink: WE SUPPORT ETHAN.

Jasper wonders if he does. His (ostensible) best friend isn't playing tonight, of course, but someone will send him a picture of the sign and Ethan will interpret it as one more reason not to worry. There are no banners for Jasper.

A thought he shoves away. The field stretches green and familiar. The lawn seems to open up to accommodate his quickening pace. Jasper rushes harder. 


chapter thirty-three